Fiction: The Gift – Continued…

February 2016 Blog Challenge: Blog 21 of 29

As a child I was happy to create stories and loved the escapism that they offered.  As an adult, I have now returned to the fiction form and have embarked on writing my first novel (of a trilogy). It’s a blend of semi auto-biographical and fantastical elements, which feels to me like arranging a giant patch work quilt of my life: There are some favourite scraps of my own old clothes, which I am adding to, embellishing and turning into a brand new pattern…

Part of my blog challenge this month is to boost the content of this first fiction book.  Each excerpt, which will stand alone on this blog – will eventually be woven into the larger fabric of my book design.

Fiction: The Gift – Continued…

bike charm

“Ariel!” The voice of her Aunt Sarah abruptly bought her back down to earth. “Ariel, Darling – where are you?”

Ariel laughed nervously “I’ve got to go. I’m being summoned…” In equal emotional amounts she wanted to stay in this moment with Oliver and she also wanted to run away.

Oliver smiled “So I hear. Thank you for accepting my gift, Ariel.” He got off his knees and sat back in his chair.

Still he didn’t touch her or kiss her. Why? Was she misreading this? Was he scared to? Did he regard her as family? What in heaven was going on here?

Ariel stood up, leant over and gave him a hasty kiss on the mouth. “Thank you again Oliver” she said, looking in to his eyes. Once more he gave that slow slight smile of his, but did nothing more.

Ariel bolted out of the room, blushing. “Save me a dance after midnight” Oliver said softly to her back as she ran down the long corridor towards the kitchen.

Her heart hammering, she detoured into the downstairs toilet to cool her cheeks and check her emotions. “Ariel… are you in the loo?” Aunt Sarah sang out in the corridor.

“Yes, I’m in here, Auntie, won’t be a minute – coming!”

When Ariel had calmed down and finished fanning her hot face, she checked the mirror to see what her countenance would reveal to the world. She was both elated and scared. She wondered too if she had just dreamt that scene back there in the Reading Room with Oliver, but there was the pendant hanging round her neck. She held the bright beautiful object in her right hand and closed her fingers over it. It was real enough.

Hiding over, she ran the rest of the way to the kitchen and fortunately everyone was too busy preparing for the evening’s ceremonies and celebrations to pay her any mind. She grabbed an apron, tied it on and knuckled down to finishing off the food preparation. She squeezed lemons for the homemade lemonade and lined up bottles of ginger beer and fizzy elderflower in readiness.  Next she loaded laden dishes of food on to the kitchen trolley and wheeled it precariously down the corridor to the dining room.

The evening passed in a blur of activity. More and more guests poured in to the Castle and made their way to the Great Hall. Rows and rows of chairs had been set out in audience readiness.

When everyone was assembled, the Rector walked ceremoniously to the front of the Hall and raised his hands. Everyone quietened and he started chanting the first solstice incantation. On the second verse, everyone joined in and intoned along. They all knew the words by heart. The whole service was lilting and beautiful. Together, nearly 60 people incanted and sang together in gorgeous, almost angelic harmony.

She was pleased to see that the Tregarns were all there, sitting together a few rows back. Sharon was married now and 7 months pregnant with her first child – she waved at Ariel across the Hall. Marriage clearly suited her – she had somehow always seemed serenely adult and now she was in her element. Janey was clearly excited by everything going on in the room, her eyes darted around incessantly and she didn’t even seem to register that Ariel was there – she certainly didn’t acknowledge her. Next to his sisters sat Luke. He looked exactly as he did when he was a teenager all that time ago; except that he was taller now and his lean frame had filled out to solid muscle. He was smartly dressed, but already his tie had been loosened and the first button of his shirt was undone. When he caught Ariel’s eye he executed a mock bow from his seat, with an extravagant hand gesture. Ariel responded by sticking out her tongue.

Throughout the service, much as she loved sitting next to her father and joining in with feigned gusto, Ariel felt overly self-conscious. She sensed the strange weight of the pendant pulling down on her neck. She wondered where Oliver was, and if he was watching her. She scanned the room nervously several times and finally saw him, standing at the back of the hall, deep in quiet conversation with another man she didn’t know.

At last the final incantation was uttered and the Rector instructed that they pick up their chairs and rearrange them all around the sides of the room, so that the feasting and celebrations could begin.

As Ariel scraped and bumped the heavy wooden chair to the nearest wall, Aunt Mary was suddenly in her way. “What is this?” she said, grabbing the pendant and pulling at it none too gently. Ariel simultaneously swiped at her aunt’s hand and dropped the chair. “Where did you get this from, Ariel? What is going on?”

Aunt Sarah and Aunt Rebecca also appeared at her elbow. “Ah! You’ve seen it too sister” Sarah intoned smilingly, pointing at the pendant. “Leave the child alone Mary, let her enjoy the party – do. There will be time enough for explanations and negotiations later.” Mary, however stood her ground in front of Ariel.

Aunt Sarah raised her eyebrows at Mary and Aunt Rebecca raised her hands in a ‘just let it be’ gesture of supplication. “Well go on then, Ariel. Carry on as you were.” Aunt Mary snapped and stepped smartly out of the way.

It was all so disconcerting… What had her Aunts meant?  The pendant seemed to signify something beyond Ariel’s puzzled understanding, and had they mentioned ‘negotiations’…?

That sweet, strange private moment she’d had with Oliver, now seemed all too weird and… public

Ariel did her best not to drag the heavy chair the rest of the way, with only partial success. She was overwhelmed by all the noise and people all around her. She wanted to just disappear and be left alone. Without thinking she ran for the sanctuary of the narrow door that led up the tiny stair well to the Minstrels Gallery.

Clicking the latch open, she slipped in and shut the door behind her, instinctively feeling her way forward towards the bottom rung of the stairs, in the darkness. The door behind her quickly opened and closed quietly again. She froze mid step.

It was if a flickering shadow moved in behind her, filling up all the space at the bottom of the stairs. Suddenly, from behind, two hands covered her eyes.

“Guess who?” he said.  Oliver had followed her in here.  Her heart leapt.

“Happy Christmas, Angel Ariel.”

It wasn’t Oliver. Ariel whipped round, as her brain registered who it actually was. “Luke Tregarn. What the hell are you doing? You scared the life out of me.”

“Blimey, never heard you swear before. Haven’t had the chance to wish you Merry Christmas, Angel Ariel. That’s all. Angel Ariel. Christmas Angel Ariel you are…” he tailed off guffawing to himself.

“Bloody hell Luke, you’re drunk! How did you manage that?” She could now see his face as her eyes grew accustomed to the grey darkness.

“Hoy oy, stop the swearing. What – oh, yeah, well the no alcohol, teetotal rules of Tregorwith Island may reign supreme within these four walls, but there have been smugglers on these islands for hundreds of years, Miss Christmas Angel Ariel and I just happen to be one of them.”

“Well don’t let any of my Aunts smell that brewery breath on you. Between them, they’ll throw you out to the sharks.”

“Nah, well, it’s too cold for sharks this time of year. And… needed Dutch courage…”

Ariel sighed. She had snuck into the Minstrel’s stair well to be alone and now Luke was here, ruining her solitude and talking in strange, beery riddles.

“What’s the sighing for? Don’t be sad, Christmas Angel, I’ve come to claim my Christmas kiss” he said as he grabbed each of her arms and pulled her to him.

“Stop it Luke! God, you are drunk. Get off!” she said, shoving him away and running up the stairs to the gallery. Behind her she could hear him stumbling and swearing as he made his way up after her.

She wondered about escaping down the smugglers tunnel on the way up, but decided it would be too cold and damp, so instead sped rapidly upwards, stepping out into the light at the top of the stairs. She guessed that even now she was grown up and taller, she could still stand close to the wall, in her secret spot where she could see the Hall and not be seen. She could also at a push, push Luke Tregarn back down the stairs, no matter how big and burly he had now become.

Sure enough, he huffed up in to sight.

“Get back down those stairs and leave by the Smugglers Tunnel” she commanded. “If we’re seen together here, we are both in very big trouble.”

“Calm down Angel Ariel. You’re not being very festive are you? I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas, but you won’t bloomin’ well give me the chance, will you. Come ‘ere” he said grabbing her left wrist. “Got something… Hold still woman…” There was a flash of silver and a chink of metal and Ariel’s wrist felt suddenly heavy. For a strange split second she thought he’d handcuffed her.

“Blimey woman, make it hard for man to give you a present, don’t you?”

Puzzled, Ariel looked down to see a bracelet, made of silver links, dangling from her wrist.

“Look” he said, very pleased with himself. He skewed the bracelet round and showed her the one small charm attached to it. “It’s a charm bracelet, ready to fill up with… er, charms, and I’ve started with a little silver bike, Christmas Angel Ariel”.

“A bike? Er… What?” Her bewildered brain wondered if she was the one who was drunk…

“Reminded me of when I took you pillion on me bike, that time on the mainland, Angel Ariel. You remember.”

“Sort of…” she said, “but…”

“Quiet now”, he cut in. “Let me say this. That was 10 years ago and I knew. Every summer Angel Ariel. Yeah and I knew your Aunts and the bloody Emissariat wouldn’t like it, so I kept my distance. I’m good at all that. But I was watching and waiting. And then I thought your Dad, well he’d be OK with it. He’s a decent bloke, he married out. He’d understand. But then at the end of every summer you’d go away again.”

Ariel wondered about telling him to shut up; but her ego was intrigued, so she kept on listening…

“And you’re so sweet and quiet like aren’t you? Who can ever tell what you’re thinking. You’d go away home to the Midlands and be with who knows bloody who. But I know how this lot work and how protected you are, so I held on to my hope. And then you bloody went to University and, well, I really thought I’d lost my chance to ever say anything to you. But you came back Angel Ariel, you came back and you are here and I just had to tell you, I just had to ask you… to think about me, and to know me Ariel, really know me; before they go and hitch you up with some public school, toffee nosed idiot…”

He stopped suddenly. “What’s this?” he said accusingly, pulling at the pendant around her neck. “Oh God, I’m too bloody late. You’ve got a sodding Pledge Pendant. Jesus! French by the look of it. It’s that bloody pseudo git, Oliver / sodding Olivier isn’t it? I might have bloody known!”

“Luke, please lower your voice. It’s Christmas, OK, I’m getting presents left, right and bloody centre – ha, ha!” Ariel said, shaking her silver be-decked wrist sarcastically in his face.

“Have they negotiated the Bonding Contract yet?”

“Do what? What are you talking about, it’s just a bloody present. Look, you’re drunk. It’s the beer talking. Just leave, Luke – go out of the Smuggler’s tunnel and sober up. Please don’t let them see us together.”

To her surprise he started sobbing “Ariel, Angel Ariel, don’t do this. We can still stop this. Be my girl. We don’t have to draw up any stupid contracts or enter into negotiations, just try me Ariel. I love you – I’ve bloody loved you for 10 years now – look I’ve said it. Don’t marry that French git. Just try me. No promises, no contracts. Just you and me. Come on!” He grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her down the stairs.

“No Luke, what the hell are you doing? Stop this. Stop this, please!”

He stopped and turned back towards her, keeping hold of her wrist. “I know how to stop this now.” He pulled Ariel to him and kissed her, hard on the lips, forcing his tongue into her mouth. Then he pulled back, grasped her shoulders and looked into her soft shocked eyes. “I’m going to ruin you Ariel Angel, ruin you and free you. Then I promise you, you can make whatever choices you want.” He pushed her down onto the stairs. “I’m sorry it’s this way my love, but it’s the only way. If you’re not a virgin, they’ll have nothing to bargain you with. Come now, I promise you…”

“Jesus Christ, Luke Tregarn. Get the fuck off me! If I have to bloody scream for them to find us, I will! Ariel slapped him soundly across the face, kneed him in the balls and sat up sharply.

He staggered back. She slapped him again. “How could you Luke? My god!”

She saw tears streaming down his face. “I’m… sorry… oh my fuck… Ariel… I could die. I can’t fucking believe that I wait all this time and this… This! Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit! What have I done?”

“You were going to take my virginity and fucking rape me, you drunken bastard. Just go!”

He started to speak again.

“Just, fucking, go!” she said.

He backed off down the steps and she heard him opening the wooden panel which was the door to the tunnel. There was a rush of salty air and a sigh of wind before he pushed the door to behind him.

She sat in the dark and hugged her knees to her chest. Her head was spinning. She scratched at the bracelet to find its’ catch and release it from her wrist, but she couldn’t see it or grip it in the dark. Instead she pulled the pendant up and off over her head.   She started to cry with shock and confusion, rocking herself back and forwards. Why was this happening? Her head couldn’t take it all in.

She took some deep breaths to steady herself and wiped the tears off her face with the heel of her hand. Her awareness came back to the noise and hubbub on the other side of the door.   The six piece orchestra had struck up a dance tune. When had the music started?

She didn’t know what to do, except that right now she couldn’t face Oliver or her Aunts or anyone else. She just wanted to be on her own.

Quietly she clicked the latch on the door and slipped out into the bright lights of the Great Hall. She saw Oliver, way over in the corner, catch sight of her and move in her direction. She turned away from him and saw her father by the entrance, chatting to The Scrivener, and made her way over to him, instead. “Daddy, I’m sorry, but I don’t feel well, I’ve got a headache. I’m going to bed – OK?”

“Alright then, my love” he said, sounding surprised “if you’re sure. But let me wish you a Happy Christmas first,” he said, holding out his arms for a hug.

Headache Dad. Tomorrow!” Ariel said, bolting out the door, down the corridor, and sprinting up the stone spiral stairs to her  bedroom.

Shutting the door behind her, she threw herself on the bed, ready to start crying all over again.

~ Sandra Peachey ©

PS: This blog post is a fiction and yet I also write about my own experiences.  In fact a collection of my ‘Peachey Letters’ have been gathered together in to a beautiful book, exploring all the facets of my ‘real’ life in all its’ badness, banality and beauty. This is love seen in every aspect of the life that I live.  In it you will find the dark and the light of love in every facet of existence, in a way that will make you think, entertain you and let you know that you are not alone in life, whatever it holds for you. You can buy ‘Peachey Letters – Love Letters to Life’ by Sandra Peachey, from book websites anywhere in the world, including on Amazon (in both Paperback and Kindle)

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